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Retired Priest Faces New Abuse Charges

Sep 12, 2003 | AP

Months after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling voided 42 sexual abuse allegations against him, a retired Roman Catholic priest faces new charges of molesting a boy during a five-year period in the 1990s.

The Rev. Michael Wempe, 63, has been charged with five counts of child sex abuse.

Wempe appeared Thursday in Superior Court but did not enter a plea. His arraignment was postponed until Tuesday because one of his lawyers was unable to attend the hearing.

Outside court, attorney Donald Steier said Wempe "vigorously denies these allegations" and will plead innocent.

Deputy District Attorney Todd Hicks declined to discuss evidence. "I believe in this case but I'll prove it at a later time," he said.

Court Commissioner Jeffrey Harkavy set Wempe's bail at $800,000 and ordered him to avoid contact with the alleged victim.

Wempe, who is diabetic, was being held in a hospital unit at the downtown jail, his lawyer said.

Mary Grant, the Southern California regional director for the Survivor's Network for those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, thanked the alleged victim, now 23, for coming forward.

"It shows that persistence pays off," she said outside the courthouse. "When people do the right thing, kids can be protected."

Wempe benefited in June when the nation's high court struck down a California law that erased the statute of limitations on sexual abuse cases from 1988 and earlier. Hundreds of molestation cases were affected.

Wempe, who was forced into retirement in 2002 by Cardinal Roger Mahony and is not allowed to perform priestly functions, was arrested Wednesday on the new allegations.

The alleged victim said the molestation began when he was 11 and lasted from 1990 to 1995, authorities said. Wempe was a family friend and a popular chaplain at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Wempe was first arrested in May and charged with molesting five boys, ages 7 to 15, between the mid-1970s and mid-1980s in Los Angeles, Ventura and San Diego counties. Wempe maintains his innocence in those cases.

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